Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express | Gardens by the Bay

Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express | Gardens by the Bay
Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express

Reliving my love for European hotel trains at Gardens by the Bay’s Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express.

Do you like European trains? Particularly, overnight European trains?

Well, I do. In fact, I love them so much, I take at least one overnight train trip during any Eurotrip. If not several.

In 1998, during my very first visit to the Old World, I took three overnight journeys (One of which was in a six-person booth, truly uncomfortable but unforgettable) During my two-week 2012 spring visit, I did it four times.

Much of this love is, of course, because of the Orient Express, which I first read about in lower secondary. Now, I’m sure you’d assume the book responsible for this was Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunnit. But nope, it wasn’t. The book responsible was instead, Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love.

Intense as Bond’s encounters on the legendary train were, somehow, they planted a lifelong love for European trains in me. Till today, I still regard them as synonymous with romance and adventure.

Long story short, I was truly thrilled when I read about Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express coming to Gardens by the Bay. The whole idea of being able to step into an actual carriage of the service excited me for weeks, to say the least. Goodness, I was so excited, I even re-read parts of Fleming’s classic thriller to prepare for the visit!

Visiting the Exhibition on a Rainy Afternoon

Sounds like a downer, doesn’t it? But hmm, I don’t know. The wet weather vaguely reminded me of my autumn rail journeys in Europe. There was also a vague ambience of mystery.

Five minutes from Bayfront MRT Station and I sighted this. It immediately made me think of Musée d’Orsay.
Gardens by the Bay Events December 2020.
Choo-choo! Mystery and adventure awaits!

By the way, if you’re visiting, note that this pop-up event is outside the main grounds of Gardens by the Bay. The tickets are also separately sold by Sistic, i.e., not by Gardens’ ticketing system.

All Aboard The Orient Express!

Wouldn’t go into the details of the temperature checks and briefing here. I’d just say, the staff was prompt and polite. As long as you’re there at your ticketed time slot, you’d be on board in no time.

(Do note too, what’s on show are actual Orient Express carriages. The steps at the entrances are steep. And narrow)

The “waiting” room. Really feels like a continental train station waiting area to me.
Historical Orient Express Booth.
The first “room” on show within the carriages is a private booth. Complete with historical artefacts to provide that impression of post-dinner drinks and coffee. (And … smoking)
Orient Express Singapore Exhibition.
There are many more artefacts on show within the main carriages. Newspapers also have Harry Potter-like animated pictures.
Asmanhan Actress
I learned something new here. Despite being a … movie lover, I had no idea who Asmanhan was, prior to this visit.
Oriental Express and Hercule Poirot.
What’s great about the displays is that they don’t just introduce historical characters who have famously/notoriously travelled with the Orient Express, such as Mata Hari. They also pay homage to literary characters who have contributed to the service’s fame. For example, Mr. “Grey Cells” Hercule Poirot.
Jeepers! What’s this?!?! Why is there …. a corpse with multiple stab wounds on show too?
The enigmatic, and solemn, sight that greeted me after I stepped off the historical carriages.

The History of the Orient Express, Luxury Train Travel, and Trans-Continental Tourism

To go into a bit of history, the Orient Express is not a train but a train service. One that underwent many transformations, and lasted from 1883 to 2009.

Without going into too many details, because I strongly encourage you to visit the exhibition to learn about it, the historically and culturally significant facts about this service are:

  1. CIWL, and its founder Georges Nagelmackers, created the sleeper service in the 1870s. Nagelmackers was inspired by the American Pullman sleeper carriages and after Pullman declined collaboration, Georges decided to “do his own thing.”
  2. The service was amended and extended several times in the following decades. These changes reflected engineering accomplishments in Europe. They ran alongside socio-political developments too.
  3. Over time, the service became synonymous with luxury train travel, adventure, and intrigue.
  4. Because the service and its extensions took passengers to destinations like Istanbul, Cairo, and so on, it significantly contributed to the development of trans-continental tourism.
  5. Stories written by famed authors such as Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and Ian Fleming, which used the Orient Express as backdrop, further cemented the association of the service with adventure and mystery.

Yup, that’s the gist of it. Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express, in turn,devotes two large halls to introducing these histories, with a large collection of relevant artefacts/collectibles on display.

As you appreciate the historical carriage from the outside, you also get to understand the service’s permanent place in history.

Rene Prou sleeping carriage.
Life-size model of a sleeping carriage designed by French designer Rene Prou.
Orient Express History Exhibition.
Historical furniture, tableware, and suitcases on display. (Those suitcases are most suitable for … hiding a body if you intend to murder your lover when adventuring… ….)
There are many historical printed materials and photographs on exhibition too.
Half of the exhibition is right beside the carriages. Plenty of photo opportunities here! (I also love those retro art-deco travel posters)
Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express merchandise.
Lastly, merchandise! There’s a small gift shop right before the exit. (Prices range from SGD 1.50 for a postcard, to near a hundred for a scarf)

Orient Express Café

Now, if you’ve been keeping tabs on this pop-up event, you’d know it includes a swanky restaurant. One that features meals prepared by a Michelin chef and with prices to match.

As I’m … decidedly of the coach class populace, I didn’t go for that. Instead, I ended my visit with a light meal at the themed café.

It’s a simple affair. The café is spacious and decorated using the signature blue of the Orient Express. The light meals served are also very European and mid-range in price.

Actually, I kinda remembered a lunch I had at the café of Paris’ Les Invalides while munching on a Turkish sandwich. If that’s the ambience intended, this café is a winner.

Orient Express Cafe Singapore
The café ambience and the sandwiches available.
Orient Express Cafe Menu and Prices
Menu and prices.
Simit D’Istanbul and Munichoise's Sweet Beer Tart.
I ordered a Simit D’Istanbul and Sweet Beer Tart. The sandwich was somewhat, hmm, though generous with feta cheese. The Beer Tart was superb! Tastes a little like Kaya but with a European dessert aftertaste. Really perked me up with its sweetness too.

Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express is ongoing till June 13, 2021.

Read my other Singapore posts.

Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express | The Scribbling Geek
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Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express | The Scribbling Geek
Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express brings Europe’s most glamourous hotel train for a festive stay at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

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